The method represents a potentially low-cost leap in technology to provide information for everything from the speed of the morning commute to the sluggishness of airport security lines. "This is incredibly valuable information that could be used for many purposes, including better traffic signal timing and management of construction work zones to reduce congestion, as well as real-time traffic information for motorists," said Darcy Bullock, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue University.
"Now we have a way to measure how slow traffic is on a given stretch of road or how long it's taking people to get through airport security at a given concourse and time of day," he added. The new travel-time estimation procedures detect and record "media access control", or MAC identification signals, every time a Bluetooth device passes a detector.
The method picks up the identifying "addresses" from Bluetooth devices in consumer electronics. Because each device has its own distinct digital signature, its travel time can be tracked by detectors installed at intersections or along highways and other locations. Travelers could access the travel-time information using the same portable electronic devices that make the system possible.
"Information is a commodity people are aggressively seeking, and this method promises to cost effectively provide information that has never been widely available to travelers," Bullock said.
"It gives you quantitative 24-hour feedback on traffic flow, information we can use for design and operation decisions," Jason S. Wasson, the study's co-author said.
The researchers tested the method on sections of Interstate 65, Interstate 465 and roads in and around Indianapolis, tracking 1.2 percent of the average daily traffic on specific routes. The research findings will be detailed in a paper appearing in the June issue of the ITE Journal, published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.